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Memo to the CEO: A Marketing Plan to Move Your Policy Beyond Spin (part 3 of 4)

Welcome back to our series on "Memo to the CEO: Efficacy at the intersection of policy and business." Last week we shared our thoughts on creating an interdisciplinary team to address policy issues. This week we focus on our third principle:

3. An effective policy shop leverages business marketing best practices.

Corporate leaders may look for deep rolodexes and policy savvy when building their government affairs team, but they should look for marketing and communications experience, too. That's because even the smartest policy strategy won't succeed without the right marketing plan.

How do you move beyond inside-the-Beltway spin and into the sweet spot of effective policy communications? Here are a few points to keep in mind:

 Stories matter. Policymakers are always looking for real-world examples to illustrate their points. They want to get down from their ivory tower and find stories that bring their policy objectives to life. Your company could be the next stop on your Governor or Senator's list, as long as you have a compelling story to tell. In addition to getting time in the spotlight, companies that tell their stories well and explain the thinking behind their business decisions can make a bigger impact with policymakers.

 Words matter. Policymakers are just as busy as CEOs. They don't always have time to immerse themselves in details. This heightens the importance of the keywords you choose to summarize your issues; subtle differences can go a long way. For example, in the recent climate change debate on Capitol Hill, experts pointed out that the discussion became about the mechanism of action ("cap and trade") rather than the root problem (climate change). A less-than-strategic choice of words made a difference and the issue is now dead on the Hill.

 Light on environment, heavy on economy. Even the most stalwart supporters of the environment don't always lead with that message. Companies should be careful not to go too far in wrapping their policy objectives in "green," but should be true to their corporate values. Whether in the form of benefits to customers (aka constituents), domestic competitiveness, jobs, innovative products and services, efficiency, or other economic drivers, clearly state how your corporate objectives are creating value.

 There is such thing as a brand in D.C. Policymakers ride the Metro, see billboards from the highway, read the paper and are otherwise exposed to marketing channels. Don't forget to market to policy stakeholders using some of the same strategies you use in marketing to your customers. For example, if you're an energy company, consider the impact that targeted advertising would have on an audience that will otherwise assume you're focused solely on coal plants.

Next week: Choosing the right partners.

This piece was originally published in GreenBiz

Topics: Sustainability